The Tennessee-Mike Gundy romance came to an abrupt end Tuesday night, sources confirmed to Yahoo Sports.
Was it due to a new Big Orange backlash?
More internet outrage aimed at the next candidate to become the football coach of the Volunteers?
Another populist uprising, this one decrying Gundy’s supportive stance toward someone he recruited and coached at Oklahoma State who was accused and ultimately convicted of sexual assault?
No. You didn’t hear the backlash. You didn’t see the internet outrage. You didn’t experience the uprising. None of that happened.
It’s fair to wonder why. It’s fair to wonder why the explosive details of Chris Collins’ career at Oklahoma State didn’t become an incendiary issue Tuesday — to wonder about the dramatic difference between the angry Greg Schiano populist revolt in Knoxville on Sunday and the giddy Mike Gundy revival two days later.
Other than career winning percentage, of course. Schiano’s is .504 as a college head coach, Gundy’s .681. That’s a big difference to keep in mind when considering the vastly different treatment the two received.
Tennessee fans reacted with unprecedented force and fury Sunday to the news that their school was in the process of hiring Schiano as the next football coach of the Volunteers. They drove the Ohio State defensive coordinator out of town before he even got to town.
In the end, the deal-breaking rallying cry from the fans was this: We want a coach without a whiff of scandalous baggage. The baggage they assigned Schiano came from a hearsay allegation in a 2015 deposition of former Penn State assistant coach Mike McQueary, wherein McQueary said he heard that Schiano had information about convicted pedophile Jerry Sandusky behaving improperly with children when they were on staff together in the 1990s.
That allegation was never proven, and no charges were brought against Schiano. He was never sued in civil court. The attorney general who vigorously investigated the Sandusky scandal never went after Schiano. Ohio State vetted the available information thoroughly when the allegation arose in 2016 and found it to be unsubstantiated.
Despite all that, the snippet of McQueary testimony was ignited into the firebrand of righteousness that Tennessee fans used to blow up the hiring of a football coach and emasculate the school’s athletic director. For some, the indignation may have been sincere.
But for others, the Sandusky association became a convenient cover for rebelling against a coach with a middling career record. It’s quite easy to suspect that a lot of people smeared Schiano’s name and reputation and then shrugged it off as collateral damage in the frenzied search for a winning coach who can drag the program out of a decade-long doldrums.
But let’s take Tennessee fans at their word. They say they don’t want a coach with even a hint of tolerance for sexual assault? Then why didn’t they have anything to say about Collins’ time playing for Gundy at Oklahoma State?
On Nov. 6, 2007, three days after playing for Oklahoma State in a 38-35 loss to Texas, Collins pleaded guilty to a charge of aggravated sexual assault of a child. He admitted to having sex with a 12-year-old girl in 2004, when he was 17. A day later he was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison, though the jury recommended he serve probation instead.
Collins said he was told the girl was 16 years old at the time of two consensual sexual encounters in his hometown of Texarkana, Texas. The girl denied telling Collins that.
Because of the charge against him, Collins sat out his senior year of football at Texas High School in Texarkana. A scholarship offer from the University of Texas was rescinded. Despite all that, new Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy gave Collins a scholarship and he played as a true freshman for the Cowboys.
Collins was an immediate standout at Oklahoma State. He was the team’s second-leading tackler as a freshman before being sidelined with a knee injury at midseason. He was also a regular contributor as a sophomore — until the November day he left campus to go home and plead guilty to felony sexual assault.
Collins was suspended upon his return to school, but not immediately dismissed. That produced an uproar of its own, before he eventually was dismissed. At the time, some wondered why he was ever allowed to become a Cowboy.
“This is stuff that happens in third-world countries,” Kathy Redmond told The New York Times in 2007. “These are war crimes. I truly hope that people in Oklahoma and the entire United States decide they’re not willing to support the Oklahoma State athletic department.”
Redmond, who founded the National Coalition Against Violent Athletes, has become a nationally known figure for her work in educating college athletic programs on violence against women. Ten years later, she still is unsparing in her critique of Gundy.
“Think about the risk to the student population,” Redmond told Yahoo Sports on Tuesday. “It absolutely was child rape. … To me [allowing Collins to play] goes beyond a lapse in judgement. That’s very intentional. To me, that’s a major character issue of a coach.
“For Gundy to have done it, it tells you what the priority was. It was winning.”
At 7 p.m. ET Tuesday, Yahoo Sports reached out to Tennessee for comment on Gundy and the Collins story.
Athletic director John Currie, university public relations and athletics public relations all declined comment when reached by Yahoo Sports. A little over two hours later, Brett McMurphy reported that a potential deal between Tennessee and Gundy was off.
At the time of his conviction, several people at Oklahoma State vouched for Collins, saying he was a model citizen while in Stillwater, and that the school researched his background closely before offering him a scholarship. Others argued that Collins believed the girl was 16 and that his naïve decision to plead guilty forced a conviction that otherwise never would have happened.
But when it comes to Chris Collins, the bottom line is this: Mike Gundy brought a player accused of aggravated sexual assault into his program. And none of the very vocal fans at Tennessee seemed interested in talking about that Tuesday, as opposed to the pitchforks-and-torches mobilization against Schiano on Sunday.
Gundy assuredly is the big winner Volunteers fans craved, and he’s done it at a school always fighting uphill against Oklahoma and Texas. He would have been a big hire if winning is the bottom line.
But Tennessee fans have said this week very loudly, if not altogether convincingly, that character matters to them.
What would have been the statement if their school hired Gundy? More pertinently, what did the criticism-free enthusiasm for Gundy from the fan base say?
“If you are a good enough coach, if you bring championships, not a lot of people care how they came,” Redmond said Tuesday. “My hope is that there are so many other coaches to choose from. I hope the students and talk show hosts in Tennessee recognize what kind of culture and baggage [Gundy] brings with him.”
Yahoo Sports’ Pete Thamel contributed to this story.
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